Chris is a founder of Life and is currently the CEO and Creative Director of this international company. He is frequently listed as a top leadership expert and his blog (www.chrisbrady.com) has been recognized several times as a top management and leadership resource.
The following excerpt was taken from the book, Mindset Memos, by the Life Essentials Series. Forward below written by Chris Brady.
I’ve studied leaders for decades, and when considering their track records and actions, I’m always left pondering one particular question: “How did they know to do what they did?” It’s one thing to read about the history of a country, company, or project and be told the facts about what happened. It’s another to understand the why behind the what.
This was driven home to me while researching the development of the Kindle e-reader at Amazon. As you will discover, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos was adamant that his vision of the future e-reader be carried out in a certain way. Particularly, he wanted seamless wireless connectivity to the internet at all times so that customers could buy a book directly from the device anytime, anywhere, without any hassle. There would be no rate plans, no ongoing subscriptions, and no download charges. This was all to avoid the need to hook the device up to a computer in order to purchase an e-book. Bezos’ concept was that he should be able to hustle through an airport, remember that he had forgotten a book, and in seconds download one onto the reader without any technical knowledge or complication. It should be so easy a neophyte could do it with ease.
While this sounds logical, it was not easy to implement. For one thing, deals would have to be negotiated and struck between Amazon and wireless carriers all over the world. The costs could be astronomical. Further, no one had ever done anything like this before, and there could be no certainty it would work. Nearly everyone involved with Bezos on the project was opposed to this particular aspect of the reader, and many thought the risks far outweighed any of the potential gains in usability. But Bezos would not be moved and was insistent.
As I learned of Bezos’ obstinacy in the face of opposition from his peers and subordinates, I was struck with my usual question: just how did he know this would be so important? Why did he insist on it even in the face of resistance from just about everyone on his team? Because in the end, of course, this one particular aspect of the Kindle design was the straw that broke the proverbial camel’s back and brought the formerly resistant book publishers on board. Once Amazon representatives demonstrated to the publishers the easy connectivity that fostered spontaneous book buying, they were finally sold. It was the turning point in the whole, complicated, coordinated development project.
Had Bezos known this would turn out to be so important? After all, several years later the WhisperNet feature was quietly dropped from the Kindle with hardly a, well, whisper. But at the time it proved crucial to the Kindle’s success. We are left to conclude nothing other than the fact that Bezos could not have known specifically how important this feature would turn out to be, but conceptually he was convinced it was the right thing to do. And that is the key.
Great leaders never know for sure. They, after all, are leading people into waters in which they’ve never sailed themselves. That’s the very picture of leadership. Many times the leader must lead others into places he himself has never been. At such times conviction is paramount. Being right is not nearly as important as being sure.
I could give several additional examples, as again and again I find this same dynamic when studying successful leaders. But this one is sufficient, because it so aptly demonstrates the concept. And here is my point: leaders don’t know precisely what the future will bring, but they have a mindset that if they are not right about something, they will simply shift and end up making things right anyway. The goal is set, the vision is cast, and the leader is entirely committed to making it come true. Convictions come in strong, and they can sometimes be right, but they are also sometimes wrong. Ultimately, this doesn’t even matter, because the greatest leaders have a mindset that regardless of the obstacle, they will get to their envisioned destination. The way is not as important as the reason for the journey in the first place. The path can change, but the vision remains.
It’s a mindset. It’s a passionate adherence to an inner compass. It’s the response to a burning desire. And with the Kindle project, Bezos had it in spades. He would not be deterred. He knew intuitively what would be required to bring his vision to reality, and he would not be denied by the logic of those who would play it safe. If an obstacle were to pop up along the way (as they did in droves), he and his team could just pivot as necessary. But they kept their eye on the prize until it was realized.
That’s the essence of the mindset of leadership. It can be expressed most clearly in the stories of what leaders do, which provide insight into why they did what they did.
The Mindset Memos book features several stories that are compelling for the leadership traits they display. The leaders are very diverse, ranging from business figures to artists and athletes, but the leadership lessons are a consistent thread running throughout. Read each carefully, and consider how the lessons involved apply to your own quest in life. Don’t simply look at the what; seek to understand the deeper why. And there, in the reasons springing from the mindset of these great leaders, it is my hope you will find the conviction to pursue your own why.
Want to read more? Purchase Mindset Memos: Bite-Sized Biographies for Learning to Think Like a LeaderHERE.
The following excerpt was taken from the book, Financial Fitness, by Chris Brady and Orrin Woodward.
Think back to your earliest memories about money. When did you first realize that money had the power to purchase things you wanted? When did you first wish you had enough money for something? When was the first time you were told you couldn’t have something because you couldn’t afford it? When was the first time you remember holding a lot of money in your hand and feeling really happy about it?
Now ask yourself another question: When you think back on your earliest memories about money, do the memories make you feel mostly positive or negative? For many people, early memories about money are often associated with a sense of lacking, of not having enough for something they wanted. Sadly, this feeling of lack, which we call “the money thing,” is too often the way many people still feel today.
This feeling comes with the realization that you can’t afford something you really desire, or that you don’t have the resources to do something you really want to do, or even that you aren’t able to help someone you care about simply because you lack the necessary money. Most importantly, “the money thing” sometimes keeps people from fully achieving their potential and living their deepest purposes in life.
Of course, there are a number of things that are more important than money, but “the money thing” is a limiting factor for far too many people. Both Orrin and I experienced this challenge during our youth, and as adults, we set out to discover how to overcome it.
As far back as I can remember, I wanted to succeed financially. I guess I learned early that money was a necessary tool, and if lacking, was instead a major inhibitor. I wouldn’t say I ever went as far as greedy materialism; rather, I was focused more on “making it” and eliminating “the money thing.” It seemed as if money was a roadblock in many people’s lives, obstructing their paths and telling them they could proceed no further.
“We can’t afford it” was a phrase I grew up hearing a lot, both at home and from many people in my community. It seemed to be the major limit for most people.
But as a young person, I wondered, “Why can’t I grow up and make a bunch of money? Why can’t I find a way to kill the money limiter once and for all and be free to live my life the way I desire, rather than being hindered by a lack of money at every turn?”
So, of course, I began chasing financial success through the fantasy of becoming a professional motocross racer. It was only a teenage fantasy and quickly dissipated in the face of several facts—the first being that I wasn’t good enough! So I shifted gears, so to speak, and embraced the “go to school, get good grades, get a good job, and work your way up the corporate ladder” philosophy of success. This produced some results and a decent income, but it was also like wearing someone else’s shoes—fine for someone else but not fitting for me. I was working as an engineer at General Motors at the time, but something just didn’t feel quite right.
A crossroads in my life came one day when I found myself on a Caribbean beach asking some very important questions: “Is this it? Is this all there is? Is this the life I want? Should I settle for good, or should I risk it all and go after my dreams?”
This experience helped me step off the “normal” path of a good job and a life in the suburbs to truly living my dreams. But the path wasn’t easy. After I became an entrepreneur and went through many starts and stops, I finally found my way to the types of income I had always desired. This, however, was not enough. Making money was only the “offense” of personal finances. I still had many lessons to learn about the “defensive” side of finances and the preservation and proper stewardship of wealth.
It was through careless handling, hopeful and naïve investing, and many hard knocks, losses, bad decisions, unscrupulous investment partners, reckless real estate transactions, and other failures that I learned the lessons that finally stabilized my financial condition and fixed me upon a definite opinion about how to build wealth and manage one’s finances.
Worst of all, I had all along thought I was being wise with my money, trying to do with it what “everyone” had always recommended. I didn’t waste it on the proverbial “wine, women, and song” (I am happily married, hardly ever drink, and certainly can’t sing!), but instead attempted to invest my money and grow it responsibly. Only then did I find out how much I still had to learn.
It turns out that nearly “everyone” is wrong when it comes to personal finances, and from that consideration grew the very concept of the book, Financial Fitness.
Between the two of us over the years, we have worked with hundreds and then thousands of people struggling to improve their finances, and we have seen time and again that a few simple changes make all the difference. In fact, it is amazing how little is really needed to turn things around and get on the path to financial fitness and prosperity.
In truth, the principles of financial fitness are not complex or difficult. Unfortunately, far too few learn these simple, basic principles that can fix their finances. Most people seem predisposed to stay in a rut unless something significant urges real change. If you live in a forest your whole life, you’ll most likely think the world is made up of trees, just like a fish will probably think the whole world is water. This reminds us of Plato’s story about the prisoners locked up in a cave who just assume the whole world is a cave.
The same is true of understanding money. If your parents struggled with money and didn’t know or apply the principles of financial fitness covered in this book, you most likely struggle as well. Some people learn the principles of money success by trial and error like we did, and some learn from mentors. But unless a person learns these principles and applies them in everyday life, he or she will continue to struggle financially.
Our schools seldom teach these principles, and it is difficult to find them all in the various books on the topic. Though there are a lot of writings on personal finance, including many that teach some of these principles of financial fitness, it is difficult for readers to plow through dozens of books just to find a principle here and another there.
The principles of financial success are relatively few and simple, but we haven’t been able to find them effectively and thoroughly taught in one place in a way that truly helps people get their financial house in order. In fact, nearly all books now available on the topic fall into one of three categories:
Books on financial “offense” that explain how to make money, like the works of Robert Kiyosaki and David Bach and the many books on investing, entrepreneurship, and real estate
Books on financial “defense” that explain how to save, budget, and get out of debt, like the writings of Dave Ramsey, Suze Orman, and dozens of others on overcoming debt
Books on the “playing field,” or the “rules and philosophy,” of finance that explain how money works and how to understand economics, like titles by Ludwig von Mises, Peter Schiff, and Murray Rothbard
But there is a great need for a single book that adequately teaches all three of these viewpoints and the skills of each because readers who get too caught up in offense will make drastic mistakes on the defensive side of things, while others who emphasize defense will limit their potential by not taking important offensive actions to increase their prosperity.
Those who focus mostly on the playing field, or the rules and philosophy approach, will have a good understanding of tax policy, the gold standard, or the benefits of a 401(k) but little real control over their financial goals.
We need to learn financial offense and defense, which can be summarized as “earning like a millionaire and living like the middle class.” Too many people do the opposite and earn like the middle class but use debt to spend like they have a lot more than they do. The financially fit, in contrast, spend a lot less than they make. Sadly, few people in modern society consistently apply the principles of financial success.
On a personal note, we feel so blessed that since those experiences on the Caribbean beach and listening to an audio tape while driving to a class, we’ve been able to learn the principles of financial fitness. Herein are the results of twenty years of wins and losses, gains and failures. Herein lies not advice, as we do not deign to advise anyone, everyone’s situation being different. We have learned that the principles of financial fitness work, and those who apply them will get financially fit.
In 1887, when future president Warren G. Harding was just twenty-one years old, he worked as an editor for a local Marion, Ohio, newspaper called the Star. One night, he attended a town hall meeting to hear from a local Ohio poet named Will Carleton. The poet recited his narrative poem “The First Settler” about a farmer who harshly criticized his wife for letting their cattle stray—so harshly, in fact, that the wife had gone out into the night to bring the cattle back. After finally rounding up the stray cattle, she returned exhausted and sank onto the cabin floor, where the farmer later found her dead. The farmer had rhymed his remorseful ballad:
Boys flying kites haul in their white-winged birds;
You can’t do that way when you’re flying words.
“Careful with fire” is good advice, we know:
“Careful with words” is ten times doubly so.
Thoughts unexpressed may sometimes fall back dead:
But God himself can’t kill them when they’re said.
This poem affected the young editor deeply. He memorized it and quoted the lines back to people for the rest of his life. In effect, this poem became his life’s philosophy as he spoke all the good he could of others and rarely any bad. The application of this principle ensured he made few enemies in his later political career because he kept back unspoken words of wrath and anger, unlike his political peers.
As leaders reflect on their lives, many will discover that their biggest mistakes were not necessarily the actions taken as much as the words spoken while taking the right actions. In other words, a leader can make the right decision but still execute it wrongly through the poor use of words. Everybody is guilty of this to some degree, but imagine if by applying the biblical principle of “a soft answer turns away wrath,” the harsh words a person thinks were killed before they flew out of his mouth. What if angry words, spoken or written, were replaced with loving and encouraging words? Rather than breaking friendships, this simple principle would strengthen them, increasing joy and bringing peace where enmity existed. This should be the goal with every word a person speaks. Accordingly, before speaking, ask yourself a simple question: “Is it worth it?” Are the words about to be spoken worth being spoken, or do they have the potential to destroy a valued relationship? If it isn’t worth it, then tread carefully with your choice of words.
If Warren G. Harding, admittedly average in so many leadership areas, developed into one of the best politicians of his time through the thoughtful application of his choice of words, what can others do through application of the same? Even though Harding knew he lacked many of the leadership qualities people look for in a president, his amazing ability to maintain cordiality in the “thunder and lightning” political environment moved him to the top. Harding’s superior ability to get along with others overcame his other defects and moved him to the top of his field, thus validating Dale Carnegie’s principle that success in most fields is based upon people skills. Biographer Francis Russell elaborates:
In spite of the legend, Harding was neither a fool nor a tool, but an astute and able Ohio politician (not the highest breed of that animal) who knew how to get what he wanted—a place in the state senate, the United States Senate, the White House—while, all the time disclaiming that he wanted any such thing…In essence, he was nominated for the presidency because he had done the necessary political spadework in the grass roots and because, in one politician’s words, he was “everybody’s second choice.”
The reason he was everyone’s second choice is because he had mastered the principles of people, including the one learned as a twenty-one-year-old editor on eliminating harsh words against others.
Remember, friends can come and go in life, but enemies seem to accumulate. If possible, do not create needless enemies through the careless choice of words. Either choose better words or, if possible, don’t say anything at all. As Abraham Lincoln once humorously said, “Better to keep my mouth shut and thought to be a fool than to open it and remove all doubt.” Moreover, life is too short for grudges or conflict, especially when there is so much to do and so much more that can be done by uniting in a worthy cause. Nonetheless, if a person has made mistakes, he can still begin anew today. Mastery of one principle catapulted Harding to the presidency. Few realize the power of this one idea applied to their lives to radically change outcomes. When a potential leader replaces words of discouragement, fear, and hate with words of encouragement, hope, and love, his or her life will be changed forever.
“If only I had bought that lakefront property way back when!” “If only I had asked her to marry me before it was too late.” “If only I’d tried harder in school.” “If only I’d been a little more serious when I was younger.” Regrets and “woulda, coulda, shouldas” are part of life for all of us. We have all blown opportunities, missed chances, and somehow squandered important moments. The goal, of course, is to keep these to a minimum while finding a way not to lament overmuch the chances that have gone by. After all, it does no good to keep digging up the past and what we should have done. We can learn from our missteps but should never grow demoralized by them.
Bronnie Ware, a woman who worked for years with the dying, wrote an article sharing “The Top Five Regrets of the Dying”:
I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.
I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.
I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
I wish I had let myself be happier.
There are many such studies. What is striking is how similar the results all seem to be. It appears that when it comes to the living of our lives, we are all a bunch of amateurs. We tend to miss the main things a large part of the time.
As this list suggests, throughout your life, people will try to get you to live the way they see fit. Many of them are well meaning and truly care about you, while others, of course, are not. Sometimes, too, it is difficult to tell one group from the other. Ultimately, though, you’ve got to live your own life. You’ve got to answer that call you feel deep down inside and do what you were uniquely built to do.
It has been said that one route to unhappiness is trying to please everyone. Instead, we should try to please God first, and we will then find that only in doing so can we be pleased with ourselves.
Further, we only regret hard work when it is meaningless. This is why it is so important to align our lives with what we truly feel passionate about contributing. When we work in line with our passions and in pursuit of the highest calling we detect on our lives, we lose the feeling that it is wasted and begin to feel as if it’s a privilege. We come to realize that everything we have been given—our resources, our health, our abilities, our time— is part of the raw material we are to use to fashion our legacy. It is then that we realize that our privileges are not for our pleasure but for our purpose.
Know this: Without exception, our purpose will involve others. Our passions, our desires, our ambitions, and ultimately our legacy, will revolve around how well we did serving others with the days and the resources of our lives. This is why it is futile to become task-oriented at the expense of our relationships. Most of our greatest fulfillment’s in life will come through relationships. They should be given our highest priority. Being a good spouse, parent, grandparent, brother or sister, uncle or aunt, friend, or mentor should be part of any and every focus in our life.
No plan to leave a legacy should slight people or take advantage of them in any way. Quite the opposite: Our life’s direction, contribution, and legacy should be with, for, and about people. Forget this one simple truth, and be prepared to suffer the deepest regrets imaginable. Remember it, and you can rest assured that your life will not have been wasted, that not all of your potential was lost in spillage, and that, yes, you did accomplish something because no matter where else you failed, you at least managed to matter to someone.
Leaders must cultivate the ability to make good decisions. This requires the ability to discern between multiple options that may all appear to have near-equal merit. It will also occasionally require going against accepted procedures or violating orders. Rules are a double-edged sword; great leaders understand both edges and make their decisions accordingly. Discernment comes with experience and a clear understanding of principles and objectives. Leaders who comprehend the bigger picture and their role in it develop the ability to discern between the challenging choices with which they are confronted.
Illustration: The Failure to Conquer Sailors’ Worst Enemy
To sailors in the age of fighting sail, there was an enemy to be feared more than rival combatants, cannon fire, musket balls, grapeshot, and cutlasses combined. Between 1500 and 1800, this enemy is estimated to have killed at least two million sailors. During the eighteenth century, this enemy killed more British sailors than enemy action. In George Anson’s voyage of 1740–1742, this enemy killed more than two-thirds of his crew (1,300 out of 2,000) within the first ten months of the voyage. During the Seven Years’ War (1754–1763), the Royal Navy enlisted 184,999 sailors, of which 133,708 were killed by this enemy.
If you were responsible for the lives of sailors during this time, you would think that conquering this enemy would be your number-one priority. But strangely, naval leaders put far more focus on tactics and strategies for capturing enemy ships and sailors than on this killer.
The enemy I’m referring to is scurvy. A disease resulting from a deficiency of vitamin C, which causes malaise, lethargy, skin spots, spongy gums and loss of teeth, bleeding from the mucous membranes, neuropathy, and, most important, death, scurvy has a fascinating history. Over the centuries, cures for scurvy have been repeatedly discovered and then forgotten.
The disease was first documented by Hippocrates as early as the fifth century BC. Crusaders in the thirteenth century suffered frequently from scurvy. In Vasco da Gama’s 1497 expedition, sailors understood that citrus fruit had a curative effect on the disease. In 1536, while exploring the St. Lawrence River in Canada, the French explorer Jacques Cartier and his men were saved from the disease by local natives, who taught them to make a tea from the needles of White Cedar trees, which are high in vitamin C. In 1593, Admiral Sir Richard Hawkins taught his men to drink orange and lemon juice to prevent scurvy.
Without being able to isolate vitamin C, doctors and scientists did not understand why these acidic substances cured scurvy but only that they were effective. In 1614, John Woodall, Surgeon General of the East India Company, published a handbook for apprentice surgeons aboard company ships in which he recommended fresh food when available and when not, oranges, lemons, limes, and tamarinds—and, as a last resort, sulfuric acid. (The belief was that the acid, not vitamin C, had the curative effect, and therefore any acid would do.) Physician Johann Bachstrom published a book on scurvy in 1734, stating that “scurvy is solely owing to a total abstinence from fresh vegetable food, and greens, which is alone the primary cause of the disease”3 and urging the use of fresh fruits and vegetables as a cure.
In the 1740s, James Lind began clinical trials—the first controlled experiments in the history of medicine—to discover the cause and a cure for the disease. By 1747, he had proven that scurvy could be treated and prevented with citrus fruit. He officially published his findings in 1753 and then attempted to sell lime juice as a medicine. But because the vitamin C in his juice became oxidized, it had no effect in treating scurvy, and therefore the Royal Navy did not adopt the solution until the 1790s. The belief that any acid would have a curative effect on scurvy persisted in Britain into the late nineteenth century.
The first major long-distance voyage without a fatal outbreak of scurvy was made by Spanish naval officer Alessandro Malaspina, whose medical officer, Pedro González, was convinced that fresh oranges and lemons prevented the disease. It wasn’t until the Napoleonic Wars (1803-1815) that scurvy was finally eradicated from the Royal Navy, due to the efforts of Gilbert Blane, the chairman of the Royal Navy’s Sick and Hurt Board, who implemented the use of fresh lemons. Interestingly, the remarkable health improvement that ensued among sailors played a critical role in subsequent naval battles, notably the Battle of Trafalgar. In 1867, the British passed the Merchant Shipping Act, which required all ships of the Royal Navy and Merchant Navy to provide a daily lime ration to sailors to prevent scurvy. The term “limey,” referring to British sailors, derives from this practice.
But even after the 1867 act, British sailors continued to suffer from scurvy well into the twentieth century. The reasons were because the belief still prevailed that the acid did the trick, and much of the lime juice used aboard ships was exposed to light and air, thus oxidizing and reducing the vitamin C content. In fact, in 1918, an experiment was performed using samples of the Navy and Merchant Marine’s lime juice and showed that it had virtually no antiscorbutic power. It wasn’t until the belief that scurvy was a nutritional deficiency, best treated by eating fresh food, particularly fresh citrus or fresh meat, became universal in the early twentieth century that scurvy began disappearing for good. The reason why was not discovered until ascorbic acid (vitamin C) was isolated in 1932 by Hungarian biochemist Szent-Györgyi and found to be the antiscorbutic agent (rather than mere acid).
Understanding and Application
This may seem like somewhat of an odd example to use for the principle of discernment. But when you think about it, it’s actually quite a profound and useful example. When more sailors are dying from scurvy than combat, wouldn’t you think that you should pour resources into finding a cure for the disease?
One primary job of a leader is to discern where resources are needed the most to have the greatest impact on the objectives. This example is akin to a software company today pouring all its resources into creating superior technology when its people are leaving in droves because of a diseased culture. In this case, superior technology depends on a superior team; until the leader cures the culture, the technology cannot be created.
Perhaps one reason why Britain’s Royal Navy, or any singular country, for that matter, did not allocate resources toward finding a cure for scurvy is that the navies of all nations suffered from the same disease. In other words, if a problem is the same for you and all your competitors—if none of your competitors have an advantage when it comes to this problem—why seek a solution?
But this is where the discernment of a leader is critical. The fact that British sailors were healthier and suffered less from scurvy than their combatants played a critical role in the Battle of Trafalgar. When leaders can find areas for improvement that their competitors ignore, superiority can be achieved. Sometimes, the place to focus is not where leaders traditionally focus (e.g. superior technology, greater capital, improved production processes, etc.) but rather on overlooked areas that can have a dramatic impact on productivity and results. This requires discernment on the part of the leader to analyze his or her organization and determine critical areas that must be addressed.
One of the most critical skills leaders must develop is the ability to make the right decisions—especially under fire. They must learn to see not just two or a handful of options but a multiplicity of them. They must be able to weigh the merits of each. Then, they must know which option to choose.
In many cases, this may require going against protocol, breaking rules, violating orders. Hence, a leader must also be aware of the consequences of his decisions and actions. It is precisely this awareness that allows a leader to break rules when a situation demands it; a good leader would rather face criticism from superiors than lose people and battles because he failed to make the right decision in the heat of battle.
Leaders are not rigid dogmatists but rather flexible pragmatists. They hold their integrity, principles, values, and ideals inviolate. But when it comes to strategies, tactics, and procedures, they do what it takes to achieve the objectives—even if it means breaking the rules. They do this because they understand the why behind rules. They see the big picture. They don’t necessarily flaunt rules, but neither do they worship them.
Great leaders make decisions that, in the moment, appear to others to be foolhardy and reckless. But when the smoke clears, their decisions are actually realized to be less a product of courage than a product of wisdom and discernment.
To accept the challenge of leadership is to accept responsibility. It is to shoulder burdens that others are unwilling to bear. It is to engage in a relentless pursuit of excellence, to never rest on your laurels, to always strive to improve your performance and results. A leader cannot blame anyone else for his or her team’s lack of results. The only finger a leader can ever point—if he or she wants to be effective—is at him- or herself.
Many people aspire to leadership because of the potential glory it offers while being ignorant of the certain loneliness it requires. Before a leader can earn great rewards, he or she must first bear an unfair load. While a leader cannot point fingers of blame, there are always plenty of fingers pointed at a leader by other people. Everyone looks to the leader for ultimate responsibility. It’s not fair; nor is it easy.
US President Harry Truman kept a sign on his desk that expressed the lesson of the unfair load well. It said: “The buck stops here.” Effective leadership is an exercise in extreme responsibility. Even when other people are to blame for something that goes wrong, you can’t point fingers at anyone except yourself. A true leader never whines that his or her people “just don’t get it.” Rather, a true leader asks him- or herself, “Where have I failed? What must I learn from this? What more can I do?” Great leaders are hard on themselves and easy on others. That example of extreme personal accountability inspires others to follow suit and creates a culture of accountability.
As a leader, you will be required to deal with things that are unfair. You will be called to shoulder extra burdens. People will blame you for things that really aren’t your fault. You will be criticized and scorned, overlooked and belittled, neglected and rejected. But if you stick with it through those hard times, you will also be recognized, praised, and rewarded. You will grow in ability and influence. You will feel the profound satisfaction that only comes from knowing you have made a difference. There’s nothing easy about leadership. But those willing to accept the unfair load “wouldn’t be elsewhere for thousands,” as Lord Nelson put it.
“When I look back over my life, the times I’ve struggled have not been fun. But they appear in broad relief, now, as the greatest moments of change and personal growth. I would not be who I am today without those trials and struggles that made me stronger and better. ” – Chris Brady
Most everyone has heard the phrase, “Dream, Struggle, Victory.” And it seems that there is a lot of literature out there addressing the first and the last of those three terms. But is it not interesting how little coverage is given to the struggle part?
Obviously, if we undertake some great endeavor we are going to struggle to accomplish it. What most people might not realize, however, is that the struggle is probably the most important part. It is the struggle that makes us grow. It is the struggle that reveals the character we have deep inside for continuing onward in the face of adversity. And it is the struggle that makes for any good movie or story of achievement.
One author I have read actually referred to it as the “gift of struggle.” Perhaps some would think it was going too far to call struggle a gift, but I believe it to be one. If you stop and think about it, the struggle is the only place in which we grow. It is the struggle that makes us stronger. No bodybuilder would be able to build muscle mass without weight or resistance. The pushing against or raising of the weight strains and pulls at the muscle fibers, which then need to repair themselves. Only in this repair process are the muscles made a little stronger than they were before. More lifting causes the cycle to start over again, until the muscles are bigger and stronger than ever before – all because of the “damage” of the struggle and the repair that was necessary afterward. Struggles in our lives works the same way. Just like lifting weights, they do not necessarily feel good. And they can and often do cause pain. But how we handle those struggles, and what we do to overcome them and “repair” our commitment to the dream, will build us stronger than we were before the struggle occurred.
In Launching a Leadership Revolution, co-author Orrin Woodward and I even give special consideration to the topic of struggle in the section on mentorship. A good mentor knows that his protégé must struggle to become great, to grow, and to maximize, so he allows the struggles while teaching the protégé how to handle them, overcome them, and learn from them. Some might call this callous or cold; some might call it lack of caring on the part of the mentor. After all, who would let someone struggle? Why would one not want to swoop in and eliminate the struggle for the protégé and make his or her way easier? It is the same as teaching our child to walk. If every time she started to bobble we grabbed her and kept her from falling, we would appear to be helping her. We would appear to be caring. But actually, we would be hurting our child by trying to help her too much. One of the greatest things my parents and mentors have done for me is to give me the encouragement to try, and then allowed me to make my own mistakes and learn from them. By creating my own messes, and knowing full well that I had the responsibility alone for my actions and cleaning them up, so to speak, I was allowed to struggle and grow through those adversities. When I look back over my life, the times I’ve struggled have not been fun. But they appear in broad relief, now, as the greatest moments of change and personal growth. I would not be who I am today without those trials and struggles that made me stronger and better.
So embrace the struggle. It is not a bad word. Is is not to be avoided. And when you see it in the life of those you love and mentor, of course, do what you can to keep them from actual harm. But in the course of events, allow them to take responsibility for their own lives, allow them to struggle against the resistance, and therefore build their mental muscles stronger. For out of the greatest adversity comes the greatest opportunity, and in those moments the greatest leaders are made.
Ships may be safe at harbor, but they were not made for the harbor, they were made for the dangerous high seas. And leaders may be safe on the couch, but they were not born for the couch, they were born for the tumultuous waters of engagement.
Have a dream. Embrace the struggle. Capture the victory!
The concept of “leadership” is a complex one. Most everybody has a feel for what the term means, at least in a general sense, but generalizations about leadership don’t help us very much. In order to understand how to lead and why to lead and what it even means to lead, we’d better get clear on what comprises this complex idea embodied in this simple little English word.
We’ve tried this exercise of defining leadership with audiences large and small, and invariably the same thing happens. We begin getting word phrases that all sound pretty good, phrases like “taking responsibility” and “getting results,” or one-word descriptors such as “commitment,” “perseverance,” “charisma,” and “integrity.” These are all true in a sense, but somehow they don’t go far enough. So then we switch to attempting definitions by combining all these phrases, but it creates so much mumbo jumbo, like one big buzzword soup from a corporate boardroom. Somehow the words meant something to us individually when thinking about leadership, but when fused together, the life went right out of them.
At this point, it may be helpful to turn to some experts on the subject. Surely they can bring some congruity. The list that follows is just a short offering:
James C. Hunter: “We define leadership . . . as a skill of influencing people to work enthusiastically toward goals identified as being for the common good.”
Al Kaltman: “The successful leader gets superior performance from ordinary people.”
Bill George: “The leader’s job is to provide an empowering environment that enables employees to serve their customers and provides them the training, education, and support they need.”
Andy Stanley: “Leaders provide a mental picture of a preferred future and then ask people to follow them there.”
Vance Packard: “Leadership is getting others to want to do something that you are convinced should be done.”
Garry Wills: “Leadership is mobilizing others toward a goal shared by the leader and followers.”
Alan Keith: “Leadership is ultimately about creating a way for people to contribute to making something extraordinary happen.”
George Barna: “A leader is one who mobilizes; one whose focus is influencing people; a person who is goal driven; someone who has an orientation in common with those who rely upon him for leadership; and someone who has people willing to follow them,” and “Leadership is the process of motivating, mobilizing, resourcing, and directing people to passionately and strategically pursue a vision from God that a group jointly embraces.”
Kenneth O. Gangel: “I consider leadership to be the exercise of one’s special gifts under the call of God to serve a certain group of people in achieving the goals God has given them toward the end of glorifying Christ.”
Dwight D. Eisenhower: “Leadership is the art of getting someone else to do something you want done because he wants to do it.”
These insights and definitions are good and helpful, and some we like particularly, but John Maxwell gives an exemplary definition, quoted here at length from his book The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership:
Leadership is influence—nothing more, nothing less. People have so many misconceptions about leadership. When they hear that someone has an impressive title or an assigned leadership position, they assume that he is a leader. Sometimes that’s true. But titles don’t have much value when it comes to leading. True leadership cannot be awarded, appointed, or assigned. It comes only from influence, and that can’t be mandated. It must be earned.
What, then, is influence? Our favorite explanation of influence comes to us from nineteenth-century preacher and author Albert Barnes: “Influence is that in a man’s known talents, learning, character, experience, and position, on which a presumption is based that what he holds is true; that what he proposes is wise.”
George Barna tells us, “To be effective, a leader must have influence. But influence is a product of great leadership; it is not synonymous with it. You can have influence in a person’s life without leading him anywhere.”
Perhaps there will never be a short, cute definition for leadership. We are certain there will never be one upon which all “experts” agree. This very difficulty in arriving at a concise explanation for the concept illustrates the enormity of the subject at hand. But all of the above definitions hit near the same mark. Any attempts to be more concise or specific are like trying to grab smoke. For the purpose of this study, then, we will fuse the above commentary into the following:
Leadership is the influence of others in a productive, vision-driven direction
and is done through the example, conviction, and character of the leader.
Those who take active responsibility to foster their motivation on a regular basis will outperform those who do not. It is the responsibility of the leader to keep him or herself hungry on a regular basis. Napoleon Hill, author of the world-famous book Think and Grow Rich, said, “One must realize that all who have accumulated great fortunes first did a certain amount of dreaming, hoping, wishing, desiring, and planning before they acquired money.”
All of leadership starts with hunger. At any point in time when the leader is not hungry, the leader is not functioning as a leader. This may sound radical, but it is true. Remember, a leader takes people somewhere. The moment the leader is not moving, the leader is not leading. And it takes ambition to keep the leader moving.
Picture success as a road that leads to your dreams:
Along each side of the road are shoulders. Often the shoulders of roads are comprised of gravel. If a driver inadvertently runs onto the gravel, the sound serves as a warning that a course correction is required to resume traveling safely on the road. Conversely, sometimes that same gravel can grip the wheels of the vehicle and pull it from the road into the ditch.
On the left shoulder is comfort. Comfort is fine in small doses and in certain areas of life, but, like gravel, it can also serve as a warning. Remember, ambition flourishes in discontent with the status quo. Discontent and comfort cannot coexist. If a leader becomes too comfortable, ambition will die, and the soft gravel of comfort can pull him or her down into the Ditch of Complacency. Complacency is defined by Webster as “self satisfaction accompanied by unawareness of actual dangers or deficiencies.” Complacency pulls a leader from the road of success and halts all travel toward his or her dreams, as when a car is stuck in a ditch.
There is another danger in traveling too close to the Shoulder of Comfort: opposing traffic. Most people in life are looking for the easy road. They want comfort and will pay the price of mediocrity to get it, so they rush toward it like cows to the barn at feeding time. If a leader attempts to lead from a position of comfort, he or she will run smack into that mass of traffic heading in the other direction away from dreams and toward mediocrity.
Leaders, however, shun comfort and seek excellence instead. They subscribe to the theory held by author Al Kaltman: “Without meaningful work, life stinks.” They travel down the right lane in the diagram and away from oncoming traffic. The right lane is never crowded. There always seems to be a shortage of leaders but a plethora of people heading the other way. This is one thing that makes a leader so special. Also notice that being a leader means traveling close to the Shoulder of Frustration. In fact, this is the mark of any true leader. Being a leader is a study in managed frustration. How can one have ambition for a brighter tomorrow without being frustrated at the current set of realities? How can a leader be at war with the status quo and not be frustrated at the same time? The answer, of course, is that no leader can. Any real leader traveling the Road of Success toward his or her dreams will encounter frustration along the journey. Frustration can be healthy, but just like the shoulder on the other side of the road, this gravel of frustration presents a trap. Too much frustration can be a warning to the leader that his or her attitude is dipping and could pull the leader down into the Ditch of Discouragement. Discouragement is a showstopper because it robs the leader of hope. Without hope, the leader is trapped in the Ditch of Discouragement and makes no further progress toward his or her dreams.
The only way to stay away from oncoming traffic, the Shoulder of Comfort, and the Ditch of Complacency—and the only way to travel near the Shoulder of Frustration but clear of the Ditch of Discouragement—is to focus straight ahead on the dreams in front of you. Having a dream focus keeps a leader safely on the Road to Success. The best way to stay focused is to manage that hunger.
So staying hungry is actually a discipline. Webster defines discipline as “training that corrects, molds, or perfects the mental faculties.” Hunger is certainly a mental faculty; notice that it needs training, molding, and perfecting. True leaders understand this and take the necessary steps on a regular basis to provide their hunger with the proper care and feeding. Many times, leaders don’t need to know more about what is to be done; they just need to find more leverage for themselves to do what they already know how to do.
Anyone who has spent any time around me at all will likely know that one of my favorite quotes (attributed to D.L. Moody) is:
“Our greatest fear should not be that we will not succeed, but rather that we will succeed at something that doesn’t matter.”
It is easy to run for the wrong things in life. We can fall prey to the world’s definition of success, going for glitter instead of gold.
So what really does matter in life? What is gold when it comes to achieving success?
I believe my friend and often co-author Orrin Woodward has expressed it well in a recent blog post (you can read it here). His main point is that one can strive for Net Worth (in which money is stacked higher and higher) or Net Impact (in which people are served in the most important ways). I think we can all readily agree that striving after a success that serves people and changes lives is much more important than accumulating wealth.
Net Impact should trump Net Worth every time.
The particular cause Orrin uses to highlight this point is certainly worthy. The evils of human trafficking, involving unspeakable injustices and crimes, should enrage us all. I am thankful that people like Tim Ballard and organizations like his Operation Underground Railroad exist to fight those evils. That is why Terri and I are wholeheartedly supporting the Life on Life Initiative involving a partnering between All Grace Outreach and Operation Underground Railroad. We are raising funds to help those who are in dire straights and cannot help themselves.
I’ll end with another famous quote (by Edmund Burke):
“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”
Good men and women are not doing nothing, they are taking action! I am proud of the many people in Life who are working toward their Net Impact by raising funds and awareness for this important issue. Thank you all! May your Net Impact be huge!